Monday, 24 March 2014

Out Of The Loop

This is the message that I'm seeing most of the time when I'm online (or should I say "not online" ) at the moment. Yes, once again we are staying in our St Andrews caravan and, once again Caravan Connect WIFI is sporadic to put it kindly. Marion's been complaining that I'm spending too long on the internet whereas, in reality I'm spending too long trying to use the internet. My games of Words With Friends have been protracted and my presence on Twitter minimal. Whether I'll get to the end of this blog before midnight or not is the question of the moment. 

Anyway, must press on as the elusive signal is here and, as the rest of the site appears devoid of caravaners, I'll crack on before someone spoils it by trying to download their email. Yesterday it took over 60 minutes to download The Archers Omnibus our weekly dose of soap but we got there in the end and heard Bradley Wiggins' historic performance. 

The third week of my experiment of selling antiques on eBay ended yesterday. This nice little porcelain plaque that I bought at Campsea Ashe in a job lot of three did okay but overall, after eBay, postage and Paypal charges the three weeks have yielded just under £200 profit on items that cost £520 - a margin of 35%. I'm still regretting the fabulous cheese dish that arrived in a hundred pieces as I am certain that would have made a very good price and would have skewed theses figures upwards in a positive way. As it stands £200 hardly covers the cost of diesel and entrance to antique fairs etc but at least it is a profit and I've had a lot of enjoyment from it. I think that I've learnt quite a lot too. I probably won't continue on a regular basis but maybe will still buy one or two bits and pieces that have prices too good to resist. As Marion (sensibly) keeps telling me, my new mantra has to be "be more selective".

On Saturday we headed off with the family to Edinburgh. Sarah and Duncan had treated Marion to tickets to see Northern Ballet's production of Cinderella so Duncan and I took the children to the fabulous Edinburgh Museum while Sarah and Marion enjoyed the dancing.

Melody was as good as gold although she wasn't greatly impressed by the exhibits.

Rose was very impressed - especially by the excellent children's discovery room where she flaked out from exhaustion after an extremely busy couple of hours. As always, it has been great seeing the family and whilst it isn't exactly the lap of luxury, the caravan is comfortable enough and has been a great buy in letting us see more of Sarah, Duncan and the children regularly without getting under their feet or breaking the bank.

Whilst we've been away we've been reading The Sunday Times top 100 places to live. Interestingly, Framlingham and St Andrews both figure in the top 100 as does Southport - quite a surprise that all three places with strong connections for us feature - must be our impeccable taste.

And on that note, I'll finish quickly before the WIFI disappears. 

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Feeling Grumpy

I'm feeling grumpy today. That's not a cue for a lame Seven Dwarves joke, -no, I'm feeling grumpy because First Utility have, yet again , messed up our gas and electric accounts. I can't remember if I've written about it before. This blog is scintillating enough without having to excite the readership with accounts of our utilities bills. 

All was fine with our gas and electricity until last summer when the gas meter went faulty. First Utility were very efficient and changed the meter quickly but since then we have not had a single bill for either electricity or gas. I've filled in the readings online religiously every month and when several months had passed without a bill I started to contact them. I phoned (kept hanging on for thirty minutes and then got cut off). I emailed (replies followed promising rectification). I sent Tweets and got apologies and more promises but it's now seven months since we were billed and we've no idea where we stand with our fuel.

To compound things we changed banks in October. The first direct debit went out correctly from the new bank (Santander) but in December it was claimed from our old Barclays account which is still open. I cancelled the Barclays debit and told First Utility to claim from Santander (which is the only account on my online details). I got stroppy emails telling me my bank had advised them we had cancelled our direct debit (duh) and no debits were taken at all in January and February despite everything being correct online. As a last resort I wrote an old fashioned letter a few weeks ago. I haven't had a reply but I checked my Barclays statement today and lo and behold First Utility have now taken a payment - from the wrong bank again. In the words of another famous curmudgeon "I don't believe it." First Utility's tariffs may be competitive but their customer service appears to be run by a bunch of idiots without a brain cell between them.

Rant over. It's Marion's birthday today - I don't want to spoil her day by continuing to fume about First Utility. This lovely outfit arrived in the post from Paul and Josephine in Rochester together with the beads painted by our granddaughter Catherine. I think you'll agree Marion's looking great - the outfit fits perfectly and suits her very well. We're going into St Andrews this evening for a bite to eat to celebrate with the Scottish branch of the family.

We drove up to Scotland early on Sunday. Wouldn't it be nice if motorways always looked like this?

St Andrews has a decent little cinema so we headed down to see The Grand Budapest Hotel last night. I don't know what to say about this. It's a very old fashioned farce starring Ralph Fiennes as Gustaf the concierge at a grand old hotel in a mountainous Eastern European state just before World War II. Gustaf offers more than room service to the wealthy women who stay at the hotel and consequently receives a bequest that is not exactly welcomed by the bereaved dowager's family. 

What follows is pure farce and cartoon capers as Gustaf and his sidekick Zero the lobby boy flee the family and its fierce henchman and try to evade the law and the military. The whole film is full of cartoon colours and Tom and Jerry antics and is filmed in a very stylised way with a square screen in which the characters' heads and shoulders are often fully framed. There are plenty of laughs. It's very entertaining and also very weird. 

Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Sleeper Is Dead

I've been doing a bit of antique hunting lately due to my experiment with selling on eBay again after an absence of several years. I'm enjoying the hunting for bargains very much and we'll see how successful I have been on the next two Sunday evenings when the eBay auctions on eight of the items I've bought and four pieces from our collection finish. When I did this as a hobby/business I used to scour the local sale rooms for pieces that had escaped the auctioneers eye (they can't be expert in everything) and sometimes I would end up with a real bargain. This is what is known in the trade as a "sleeper".

But, now that we have the internet, more and more auctioneers are putting their lots online and, instead of just a few locals casting their eyes over the lots on offer, the whole world can have a look if they wish and, whilst there are still plenty of sleepers around, the chances of you being the only one to notice them are becoming slimmer and slimmer. I mentioned earlier this week that we'd spotted two lots at the auction in Campsea Ashe with pre-sale estimates around the £100 mark that ended up selling for ten times those estimates. Yesterday I found another very interesting piece in Beccles.

I don't know anything about Japanese costume accessories but I thought these silk items were beautiful and worth a bit more than the auction estimate of £50-£70. So we logged on and followed the auction ready to bid when they came up. The bidding started at £50 and I was ready to put my £250 bid in when other internet bidders piled in. Thirty seconds later the price was £1,900 (plus about 20% commission.) The internet must be doing wonders for auctioneers' commissions but the poor local dealers' chances of finding a sleeper have all but disappeared. What I need to find now are some good old fashioned auctioneers who haven't yet found their way online.

In other news, we weren't happy with the frame on this painting in the dining room. The black looked really stark and shouted out too much so when we saw an advert for framer Hamish Bell in the About Fram newsletter we gave him a ring to ask what ideas he could come up with. We weren't disappointed. Whilst we would have been happy to have the painting reframed, Hamish suggested re-painting the frame instead.

Here is the result. The frame no longer screams at us and the painting looks so much better. Thanks Hamish.

We had some friends around for dinner last night. I thought the table settings looked great. I think our guests enjoyed themselves as it was after two when they left - it was almost three when we had finished the clearing up.

I'll end today with this. We saw it at the cinema the other night. It's right up my street. 

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Doing Our Bit

We had a busy time yesterday. Framlingham has an excellent community scheme run by the local Rotary Club and we've been on the list of volunteers for a while now. We haven't been called upon to help a great deal as many of the requests for assistance involve DIY and, as anyone who has seen my attempts at DIY will tell you, me and DIY don't get on well together. But slapping a frozen dinner into a microwave and making a cup of tea is within my skill set so we headed off to an elderly couple yesterday to do just that (they are unable to do it due to a temporary disability).  Once that was done we went to help another elderly lady and gentleman with a very complex form - I think that we filled it in correctly. 

I've mentioned it before but Framlingham's Hour Community is a very worthwhile scheme and the more people who know about its existence the better - I am sure that there are plenty of people in the town who are struggling needlessly when help is often available. 

We've had the excellent decorator Gerald Clements and his colleague James here this week. Gerald replaced the wallpaper damaged by the recent leak and while he was here he tidied up a lot of little cracks and scrapes that have arisen in the twelve months since we moved in. Gerald painted the outside last year but, due to the leak, we're now waiting for a quote for the outside render to be completely removed and redone. 

We've been to Clarke and Simpson's auction at Campsea Ashe this week. They had their regular weekly sale on Monday and I bought a couple of nice little portraits.

Including this one which I think depicts Empress Eugenie of France. 

It was also the fine art auction today and we had a good look around at the viewing on Monday. We were quite excited to find a very special piece of porcelain with an estimate of just £100-£150 and a rare Chinese book estimated at £40-£60. But we were sadly not alone in spotting them as, when we logged on to bid, both items sold for over £1,000.

After the auction view we went to Aldeburgh and had a great pre-cinema meal at The Lighthouse. We've not eaten here before but from this experience its position as number one restaurant in Aldeburgh on Trip Advisor is justified. 

The film, Inside Llewyn Davis is the latest from the Coen brothers. If you like their films you will love this. It's the early 60's Jim Cuddy is Llewyn Davis a performer in the mould of Bob Dylan. The film charts a week in Llewyn's life as he couch surfs around New York and hitch hikes to Chicago (with a cat) in an attempt to further his career. Although that doesn't sound like much it's a funny and enigmatic little movie that's well worth looking out for.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

eBay Snakes And Ladders

If you've been following this blog lately you'll know that, after being inspired by shows like Antiques Road Trip and Bargain Hunt we've been seeing if we can do any better than the people on the telly.  After my first week when I managed to make about £100 profit (not taking the cost of fuel and admissions to antique fairs into account), I was sufficiently upbeat to give it another try and I am now selling another seven bits and pieces. Four were bought on eBay for a total of £43 and the other three are from my own collection and cost me £110 which means a total outlay of £153. At the moment bidding is up to £78 so I am technically £80 down but I am confident that with the numbers watching the items I should move into profit by next weekend when the sales end.

But it really is like a game of snakes and ladders. Last week I found this beautiful Stilton Dish made by Dudson in around 1890 and worth two or three hundred pounds. The eBay seller made a mistake in the listing and I managed to buy it for £31 including carriage. I was pleased with the buy as we do a bit of entertaining and I thought that we might actually keep this for serving cheese to guests. So fortunes were heading up the ladder.

But then it arrived and it was onto a snake. Okay the seller refunded me immediately but why didn't he put FRAGILE on the box and wrap it carefully? 

Then there was this interesting little figurine. I am not sure if it is anything or not but it was worth a punt at £14. Now the seller tells me that she is so busy that she can't post it so she has refunded me. Marvellous! It's not as if finding these things takes a couple of minutes - I've probably looked at over a thousand items for every one that I have made a bid on. So that's another snake.

Then this little cream boat arrived. It cost £76 but I think it's rather special and dates from about 1760. I've got high hopes for this one. I will wait and see how the other bits and pieces sell before I put it up for sale but perhaps I'm back on a ladder.

I don't think that I will be doing this Lovejoy stuff for long but I have enjoyed it immensely. It's a bit like a treasure hunt. We've driven to a few antique fairs and visited antique centres as far afield as Long Melford and Clare. The problem is that, if I start making profits, I'm running a business and I'm retired now and I really can't be bothered with all the tax returns etc.

All that driving around is thirsty work so we've become coffee shop aficionados and few days are complete without a visit to one. So a special mention to Tiffins in Long Melford for some excellent coffee and cake.

And, again, to the wonderful Pump St Bakery in Orford where we went yesterday. 

And not forgetting Framlingham's finest The Dancing Goat where they kindly tolerate my hogging a table until I've finished the crossword (although we would always leave if there were no seats available for other customers).

Today we've been spoiling ourselves a bit. Leo's Deli opened at ten this morning and we bought some fabulous Pump St Bakery pastries for breakfast and then we enjoyed some excellent Orford lobster from Pinney's washed down with a very fine bottle of white wine from our old friends at Whalley Wine shop. This retirement's not such a bad idea you know.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Families Eh?

Now that our Scottish branch of the family is safely back in St Andrews it's been time to get back into our old routine and we found time yesterday to head to the excellent Riverside at Woodbridge for the early evening showing of August Osage County. It's one that we missed when it hit the multiplexes and we weren't sure whether or not to try it as the critics had been generally unfavourable. I'm glad that we went as it was a fabulous study of a family - or perhaps I should say a dysfunctional family.

Meryl Streep plays Violet the matriarch, a cancer victim whose drug and booze filled attempts to escape her situation drives her husband Bev to an early grave and the film centres on Bev's ensuing wake. It's based on a stage play and, as such, is divided into fairly formal acts and scenes with most of the action taking place indoors. Violet has three daughters who all have mid life problems; Barbara (Julia Roberts) has marital difficulties and her sisters have troubled relationships and health problems too. Throw Violet's sister Mattie and her husband and son (Benedict Cumberbatch) into the mix with Barbara's estranged husband (Ewan McGregor) and daughter plus racist Violet's Cheyenne housekeeper and the stage is set for an eventful funeral party.

If I tell you any one of the half dozen reasons that the wake turns into a disaster I would spoil the film for you but Julia Roberts is fabulous as the eldest daughter who finds herself morphing into her drug addled and foul mouthed mum (I think the playwright was challenging The Wolf Of Wall St for the highest f-word count). Families eh? Where would we  be without them.

Perhaps life would be far simpler if, like Joaquin Phoenix in Her we all fell in love with our computer operating system. Okay so it sounds very far fetched but if you analyse it it's not as way out it sounds. It's 2025 (the not too distant future) and  Phoenix is Theodore Twombly a thirty something guy who has recently split with his wife. He buys a new voice operated operating system for his computer and is captivated as he finds himself having his files and desktop organised by the comforting tones of Scarlett Johansson. 

Now I'm a long way from falling for my SatNav (but you do get a higher class of SatNav with a Mercedes and she always says "please" when she tells me where to go), but maybe ten years in the future programming will be more intelligent and start to answer back when I curse her for taking me down a dead end. If you are home alone and your computer is capable of holding a genuine conversation it's not far removed from the voice at the end of a help line or maybe a sex line and if it were that convincing it's not that difficult to believe that a vulnerable person could become dependent and form a relationship. So, although the premise of Her is ,on the face of it, ludicrous we found the film quite believable and quite touching too. 

We've got a quiet week now before we head off to Fife to see the family so I've been putting a few more bits and pieces up for sale on eBay. After last week's £100ish profit I hope that this week's half dozen offerings do a little bit better. I've got high hopes for this beautiful French cup, French porcelain box and 230 year old Worcester saucer that I found on eBay.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Alone Again

Our darling little granddaughter Rose and her mum and sister travelled back home to St Andrews on Thursday. We all headed down on the train to London and met up briefly with son Paul and granddaughter Catherine before putting Sarah, Rose and Melody onto the Leuchars train for the long journey back to Fife. It's a very long trek for a two year old and a five month old but their mum tells us that they both behaved perfectly. They bought seats in the first class compartment and the extra space was money well spent.

We enjoyed our brief visit to London. There's always something interesting to see and the blue cockerel on the plinth outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square makes an interesting addition alongside the stately lions and Victorian grandees. Our daughter-in-law joined us later on after she finished work and we enjoyed a good dinner at The Covent Garden Hotel before heading back on the train to Ipswich.

It was so good to have the family with us but a pity that the weather wasn't too good. There were two very tired little people with us after the three days in London and, apart from a trip to Southwold and a quick walk around Framlingham we didn't get to do as much as we had hoped. We hope that they can get back soon in warmer and drier times and we can give them a nice break.

Yesterday we had  lunch with a difference when we headed down the road to Woodfarm House at Stonham Aspal and Carl Scott's super pop up restaurant.  Carl has turned the house into a restaurant over a couple of weekends in the last twelve months and Michelin trained chef Mark Peters (above with Carl - hope you don't mind me pinching your photo Carl) has delighted the diners with some fabulous menus. We enjoyed seven courses plus coffee and every course was a delight. You might think that seven courses was excessive but each course was sensibly sized and well balanced so we did not feel that we had overdone it. The cosy atmosphere was as pleasant as in any restaurant, the timing of the courses was perfect and Carl was a warm and genial host. After a Venison amuse bouche, we enjoyed shredded duck confit, blood orange marinated carp, Suffolk pork belly and tenderloin, coffee infused pear,and a fabulous local cheeseboard as well as a super sorbet between the fish and meat courses. The meal was excellent and competitively priced and we very much look forward to seeing the restaurant pop up again soon.

If you are a regular visitor to the blog you will remember that a few episodes of Bargain Hunt and The Antiques Road Trip had given me the urge to have another go at buying and selling antiques after an absence of three or four years. My first foray ended yesterday. 

This cup and saucer that I mentioned on here after buying at the Norfolk Antique Fair sold for a 50% profit and after selling seven items I ended up about £100 better off after eBay and Paypal fees but it was a lot of work for £100 and, if I am to do it seriously again I will need to be far more selective in my buying especially as I haven't taken into account fuel and fair admission fees. 

On a positive note I took a gamble that this cup listed on eBay with this terrible photo for a pound or two could be something good.

I think you will agree that it is.